Mike Soldner and Roger Hollies are the directors of sustainable energy consultants Save&Generate.com and have travelled around the South West talking to some of the early pioneers of renewable energy. In this article they focus on wind power and look at the practicalities of installing a wind turbine in your home or community...
As the world's natural resources dwindle, oil spills pollute our coast lines, and electricity prices rise, more and more people are looking for renewable energy solutions. "The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind," sang Bob Dylan, and he might just have been right. A growing number of people in the UK are turning to wind power to counter rising electricity prices and to generate clean, on-site electricity. This article takes a closer look at the practicalities and the costs of generating electricity from a small wind turbine in the UK and brings you the real life experiences of some early pioneers…
The nuts and bolts
There are two main types of turbines currently available: vertical axis (VAWT) and horizontal axis (HAWT) wind turbines. 'Small' wind turbines are defined as being between 2.5kW and 100kW rated capacity (this is the maximum output the turbine is capable of generating in high winds). The most common small wind units in the UK market are currently between 2.5 and 15 kW. These turbines have 2 to 12-metre blade length and are usually mounted on masts 6 to 20 metres in height.
In the UK we have the best wind resource in Europe, but you have to have the right conditions where you live. The wind speed is critical. To make it worth your while to generate wind energy you need a wind speed of 5m per second for most turbine makes. There are websites that can give you an idea of the wind speed where you live: just put in your post code and a basic description of your area. Bear in mind, though, that this is only a modelled approximation. To be really accurate the best thing to do is to use an anemometer at your proposed location and measure the wind speed over three months (the more time you measure, the more accurate the result). It is a relatively low-cost way to find out, definitively, if an investment in a turbine is worthwhile. Also remember that turbulence kills wind speed. Any obstructions within 500m of the turbine – even below the height of the blades – can significantly reduce the wind speed and potential yield.
As for the cost, wind turbines currently cost between £15,000 and £80,000 fully installed, depending on size and model, and can generate anywhere between 10% of a single domestic electricity demand or up to enough power for 15 homes (1,000 to 40,000 kWh/yr) depending on the wind resource. The electricity can be used on site, stored in batteries or exported to the grid. So the real question is: how does anyone afford this technology? Two schemes are in place to try and get renewables implemented on a wide scale (and thus stimulate the market). They are the Feed In Tariff (FIT) and the Pay As You Save initiative.
The Feed In Tariff
The new Feed In Tariff involves domestic users selling surplus electricity they produce back to the grid at a (new) fixed rate. The scheme only available to people installing wind turbines, solar panels, hydropower or anaerobic digestors from April 2010. Early pioneers are still paid the original rate for their electricity.
For new installers, your electricity supplier is obliged to pay a fixed rate for all of your generated electricity (up to 34.5p per kWh).
At a good location in the UK (average wind speed of at least five metres per second) this represents an annual income of at least £400 per kW, per year, on top of electricity bill savings. This could mean a payback time of 10 years or less, after which time you could be receiving both free electricity and a source of income. The tariff is set for 20-25 years so it represents an investment opportunity to someone with a good wind resource and the money to invest in the beginning, or to a community of people who can club together to stump up the initial costs.
See www.saveandgenerate.com for more on this
For info on Feed In Tariffs check out the Centre for Sustainable Energy's handy guide at www.cse.org.uk/downloads/file/feed-in_tariffs.pdf
Pay As You Save
The really innovative solution, though, is the Pay As You Save (PAYS) scheme. This gives households the opportunity to invest in technology such as wind turbines, solar panels and wall insulation with no upfront cost. Householders get a loan for their installation and make repayments spread over a long enough period so that the repayments are less than the amount of money they are saving on their energy bills. This means that people can save money and shrink their carbon clodhopper from day one. This scheme is already widely used around Europe. The PAYS scheme is currently undergoing a pilot phase with 500 households across the UK.
To find out more on how to participate in the pilot, visit www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Home-improvements-and-products/Pay-As-You-Save- Pilots
Case Study 1: The Environment Centre
The Carymoor Environmental Trust was set up in Castle Cary, Somerset, in 1996 by a small group of enthusiasts who wanted to offer environmental education to their community. Based on reclaimed land from a landfill site, the centre (now a charity) comprises a main building plus a straw bale house, a beautiful 'sensory garden' of native herbs and plants, two ponds and a reed bed system. Carymoor runs volunteer days every week and gives training courses and workshops at the centre on waste reduction, sustainability and wildlife conservation, offering 'Wild Days Out' to schools, universities and community groups.
One of Carymoor's central aims is to help people understand and adapt to the challenges of climate change. The team at Carymoor felt it was important to lead by example and so they did a feasibility study for a wind turbine. In 2001 Carymoor installed a small 1.4kW Fortis Passat wind turbine which enabled staff there to familiarise themselves with the technology.
The next step was to install a bigger turbine to demonstrate the new technology really effectively to the centre's visitors. Site education officer Graham Jennings led the project and even cycled 1,119 miles from Land's End to John o' Groats to raise £1,500 towards the project.
After securing grant money to top up their fundraising efforts, Carymoor installed their 15kW Proven wind turbine turbine in 2006. Although both turbines have only generated 75% of the energy predicted, the team are still hugely proud of their achievement. (The UK market for turbines is still in its infancy and lessons are still being learnt about accurate predictions for energy generation. Graham says: "The big success story has to be the educational value the turbines have added to our centre. They raise awareness and motivate our visitors to follow in our footsteps, leading the way to a sustainable energy future."
Case Study 2: The Lone Pioneer
Eric Blatchford is a conservation works officer for Dartmoor National Park who has spent his working life contributing to conservation and sustainability projects in the region. Accutely aware that reliance on fossil fuel is a precarious strategy for the future, he wanted to give his children and grandchildren a means of generating energy safely for their families in the years to come.
Eric lives in a small town house on the outskirts of Torquay. The house is located in an urban area but sits on a hillside overlooking Torbay, and is open to the south west aspect. It does, however, suffer from 'wind shadowing' from the north and east. Wind shadow is the shadow of turbulent wind (dramatically reduced wind power) that is cast by any obstruction (buildings, trees etc).
Eric says getting the right information was difficult a few years ago and only one turbine was really suitable for his location and available to him with a local installer: the Proven 2.5kW. He had some initial opposition from his neighbours who were worried about noise (the nearest houses are 50m away). After a consultation with his neighbours, the planning office and environmental health officials, they reached a compromise. The design would be scaled down from a 11-metre mast to a 9-metre one (which, ironically, brought the turbine closer to the dwellings!). Once the neighbours were satisfied that noise and visual impact wouldn't be a problem, Eric pushed forward with the installation. Today the turbine can be seen from afar as it sits gently turning in the evening breeze on the hillside next to Eric's family home. The total installed cost of the turbine came to almost £12,500 – a substantial outlay – but with the Feed In Tariff scheme coming into force, Eric estimated that he could recoup his investment costs within 10 years.
As an early pioneer, it's not been an easy road but Eric says he is satisfied that the industry has come on in leaps and bounds since he installed his turbine. He remains upbeat. "I am happy to be doing my bit in helping to move our society towards a more sustainable energy future."
Case Study 3: The School
Head teacher of Blue Coat Primary School in Wotton-under-Edge, Jo Woolley, was keen to teach her pupils about renewable energy by having some working examples of it on site.
The government has imposed targets on schools to cut their carbon footprint and since the school already had good insulation and a modern condensing boiler, they looked at other ways they could cut down their fossil fuel use.
Alex and Caroline Alliston, both engineers, have sons at the school and got on board with Jo's idea, devoting a lot of time to researching the possibilities. In the end they found that a Proven 6 wind turbine and a solar PV system could be installed with the grant money available, and together, could provide Blue Coat School with 50% of its electricity needs.
The school got funding from the government's Low Carbon Building Programme (LCBP, now superseded by the Feed In Tariff scheme) which they match funded with money from the Community Sustainable Energy Programme's Big Lottery Fund and Scottish Power's Green Energy Fund for the wind turbine. They tried to get match funding for the solar PV system but in the end the school had to fund the other 50% of that cost themselves.
There was some local oppposition to the turbine. Many local residents cited health and safety concerns about the blades falling off, but these claims were rejected. There were also objections on the grounds of noise and visual impact. On the visual impact front, the turbine is relatively small, and sited close to a line of trees of approximately the same height. The school made up a montage to show how the turbine would look when installed. Luckily, there was already a large fire station tower and a mobile phone mast close by, so the turbine could not be said to be damaging the landscape. On the noise front, the school commissioned noise surveys which showed that, based on the data given by the turbine supplier, the turbine would not cause a noise nuisance to the neighbours.
There were petitions for and against the turbine, but with the vast majority of people in the town in favour, the turbine finally got the go-ahead. Jo Woolley says: "It has taken us nearly two years of effort to get to this point. As well as meeting the school's targets to reduce carbon emissions, the educational value of these installations is huge."
Caroline Alliston has this to say to anyone trying to install a similar wind turbine in their community: "Make sure you have a suitable site with plenty of wind, which is well over 100m away from the nearest residences. Engage with the local community and visit all the neighbours to ensure they know exactly what you are planning, so that there can be no rumours or misinformation, intentional or otherwise!"
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